My anecdote for the week comes from a newsletter, Thomas White’s Mercurius Heraclitus, or, The weeping philosopher, sadly bemoaning the distractions of the times 28th June 1652, pp. 4-5. I do not think it has come to the notice of the social historians, but is a salient example of an early modern marriage quickly going sour, and the misery of the ‘cuckold’ husband in that society. White is of course engaged in deploring the state of things, in a tattling kind of way.
We are in that insalubrious London suburb of ‘Pickt-Hatch’:
“at the signe of the Blue-Bottle a Pastry-Cooks, where James Jeanes, a Wine-Cooper, whose wife drew the Beer, desperately hang’d himself in the Cellar; the reason of it being the evil of his wife, who lov’d a Souldier that would upbraid him to his face, That he had as much use of his wife as he himself, which thing being known and reported abroad, made some scoffers to jear and point at him, which infamy he could not well bear, therefore he took upon him a deep melancholy, which for want of a true fear of God, brought him to desperation: The day before he did this ungodly deed, he walkt out all day, but could not find opportunity to do it (as being asham’d the light should behold so black a deed) till at night coming home late, he deferred his going to bed, and in the morning early was found hanging in the Cellar not then cold; his wife being called, and told that her husband had hanged himself, made answer, That he should hang long enough there before she would come to cut him downe, and lay still, but which was most observable; she passed by [ ] he hung in the Cellar all the day long to draw Beer without any the least sign of sorrow.
Not above seven or eight weeks before, she buried her husband, one Thomas Lee; he coming home one day sick, she would needs turn Doctor, and made him such a Potion as sent him the next day to his grave, and within a short time after she married this Jeanes which hath since hang’d himself for the reasons before mentioned.”
That’s a pretty high turnover of husbands – one more or less accidentally poisoned, and his successor treated with contempt after the suicide she has caused, and all within a couple of months.
Pickt Hatch is mentioned everywhere in early modern texts as a locale where brothels were situated. In Robert Davenport’s A new tricke to cheat the Divell, 1639, Slightall, a lecherous young man given to reciting chunks of Ovid lists the usual places to find a prostitute:
Sightall. Provide me a good lusty Lasse to night,
I purpose to be merry.
Roger. Sir, not I.
Slightall. I care not of what humour, face, or feature,
So thou canst find one impudent enough;
Search all the Allyes, Spittle, or Pickt-hatch,
Turnball, the Banke side, or the Minories,
White Fryers, St. Peters Street, and Mutton Lane,
So thou canst find one to disgrace her sexe,
She best shall please my Pallat.
Returning to the callous Mistress Jeanes, my maternal grandmother, Jenny Mather, had relatives who lived at Spring Bank Row, Unstone, near Sheffield. The husband drank, and came to the point when he said that he was going to hang himself in the barn. His wife stood outside the barn with a shotgun, to prevent anyone interfering with this admirable endeavour on his part. But when she finally allowed entry, thinking the deed must have been done, he was merely dead drunk on the floor.
My image is a view of London rather unfamiliar to me, from Giles Godet, The city of London, as it